And just like that, another school year has begun. I've been doing the-first-day-of-school thing straight since 1990, the year I started Kindergarten. Packing my bag, planning my outfit, laying awake the night before with my stomach tied up in knots praying it will be the best year yet. Whether it was a little girl in a new pair of Keds on the bus my grandpa used to drive, a high school girl driving her other grandpa's black Oldsmobile to school every day, that college freshman with ten minutes to get from the WRC to Lang Hall, or that first year teacher just down College Hill, standing in front of those seniors hoping I could get them to love Catcher in the Rye as much as I did. No matter the age or the year, there's always something fantastic and equally scary about the first day of school. It's a blank canvas, the perfect opportunity to start fresh and fill the pages of a crisp notebook with a unique story and lifelong memories you won't ever forget. But anytime there's change, fear often accompanies it. Fear of fitting in and making friends, of handling course loads and managing stress, of meeting deadlines and seeing evidence of learning in my students.
And now that I'm a mom and a teacher, managing my own first-day jitters with my kids', I juggle a whole new set of emotions as we say goodbye to one season and ready ourselves for a new one. It's always hard to say goodbye to summer, a season that allows me to spend so much time living slow days with my kids with fewer emails, meetings, and deadlines. And every semester, as I start to feel my plate fill up once again, I wonder how I'm going to do it all. I feel that stretch of busy start to loom over our family, and that same feeling of stress as I start new to-do lists and attempt to manage it all with mom things like meal plans and shared Google calendars and structured routines. Since 1990, I'm afraid I've always been plagued with the desire to do it all, and do it all well. It's a blessing and a curse and something I continue to work on with every first day that comes my way.
But last Wednesday, I was reminded that the key to managing all these first day jitters isn't really that hard. It was a day that didn't go as planned, with all-day meetings that turned into more items to write on the to-do list and none to cross off, aka, my idea of a completely unproductive day. My heart raced as I drove to pick up the kids, ninety minutes later than I had planned, and I was a mess of stress as I made it home that night. I felt like we were starting off on the completely wrong foot and my patience was already thinned and my nerves shot before supper was even on the table. As we cleaned up the kitchen, I contemplated two choices of how to spend the rest of the night. One side of me said to punt - to turn on Dora, sit next to the kids with my computer on my lap and start over tomorrow. Or, put it all away, choose them, and then start over tomorrow. Sometimes, it's okay to punt, but this is the beginning of the year, we've got a story to write, and Dora is absolutely not happening on the first page.
"Hey Cruz, want to play restaurant?"
For an hour and a half, the four of us played together. I brought the cash register up from upstairs, got Cruz and Mila each their own little notebook and pencil, and assigned roles to each of us: Beau and Mila would be our customers, Cruz the host and waiter, Me, the restaurant chef. Cruz took orders from Daddy, I cooked (and sorted play food) in the kitchen (a win win!), and soon our simple play morphed into this elaborate skit where Beau and the kids escaped each time to our closet, only to present themselves in a new get up with a different accent. We had pirates, cowboys, archaeologists, and senior citizens visit our restaurant that night, and before too long, my stress was replaced with sheer joy as I watched Mila play along in her dark-rimmed glasses and Cruz completely overjoyed to have both his parents in his element. We all went to bed happy that night, with plans for many more restaurant nights this school year, and I was reminded of the important lesson that as long as my family is the main course, everything else is dessert.
I'm writing this today so I can reread this throughout the year, for I know the to-dos will pile up with the laundry, the deadlines will leave me feeling stressed, and there will be days when I punt, choose Dora, and feel like a poor mom because of it. Those are the days I want to reread this, to look at those three faces that mean more to me than anything in this world, and know that creating special, simple, happy moments with them makes everything else feel like dessert. The longer I've done this parenting thing and the opportunity I've had to work full-time and have my summers to be at home has only taught me that it's not the number of minutes you have with your babies, but what you do with those minutes that matters. If I have one anthem for this year, it's to make those minutes my main course - to look at them and listen to their stories, play hard, and create moments that make us feel safe, together, and happy. The first-days and crisp notebooks indeed fill up fast, and I want my kids' pages to include stories upon stories of restaurant play and pirate adventures, of a family safe, together, and happy.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy school year, and a Facebook feed filled with sweet souls who will have the best year yet.
Pictures from my feed...
Mila saw us taking pictures and came barreling through the house with her backpack, stuffed with board books from church yesterday that made it near impossible for her to carry. This wild woman could probably take on preschool herself, but fortunately for all of us she has to wait a few years. Happy first day, Cruz Man!